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Full text of "Duty and privilege of building and adorning churches"

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RE-OPENING OF (IIRLST ClIURCn, 



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B V JOHN "N. NORTON. 

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A SERMON 



PREACHED AT THE 



BE -OPENING OE CHRIST CHURCH, 



LOUISVILLE, 



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BY JOHN N. NORTON. 

Brctor o[ asrrnston Cfturrl), JTr.inhfnrt. 



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LOUISVILLE: 

nUlLS AND SHANNON, PRINTERS, 
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MDOOOIm 



l/OUJflVII.LE, Ky., September 11. 1 8:i0. 

Reverend and Dear Sir : 

The Rector, Wardens, and Vestry of Christ Church, respectfully ask of yon, 
for publication, a copy of your sermon preached on Sunday morning last. 

JAMES CRAIK, J. H. ROBINSON, 

RICHARD BARNES, J- B. WILDER, 

S. K. GRANT, Wm. ROSS, 

Wm. CORNWALL, JOHN P. SMITH, 

L. P. MAURY, JOHN POE, 

JAMES SHANNON, JOHN N, I1REDEN. 
JAMES A. MILLER, 



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J 



SERMON. 



Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds 
that 1 have dune for the House of my God, and for the offices thereof. 

Neheuiau xiii. M. 

Such was the prayer of Nkhkmtah, after he had corrected 
the abuses which had crept into God's House, and restored 
to the Priests thou- lawful privileges and authority. 

It appears that the father of NffiTRMTAH did not return 
with the other Jews to their own laud, after the seventy 
years' captivity, but remained with his family in Persia. 
In the course of time Nehemiau became cup-bearer to king 
Artaxerxes, which was a most honorable and important 
station. 

While discharging the duties of his office, a report came 
from Judea, that the remnant of the Israelites were in a sad 
and depressed condition; and that, as the walls of Jerusalem 
had been thrown down, they were left defenseless, and ex- 
posed to the most imminent peril. These mournful tidings 
affected Nehemiau deeply, and he resolved to go at once to 
the assistance of his brethren. 




f 

' 6 



SERMON. 



Before asking leave of Artaxerxes, be prayed to Him 
in whose hands are the hearts of Kings, that He would 
grant him favor in the sight of his royal master; which 
request was answered. Neiiemiaii accordingly hastened 
to Jerusalem, and for twelve years was actively and suc- 
cessfully engaged in providing for the safety and welfarcof the 
afflicted Jews. At the end of this period, he went hack to 
Persia, and resumed his station at the Court. He had, how- 
ever, hardly left Jerusalem before abuses of various kinds 
began to make their appearance. 

Among others, the tithes which bad been set apart lor 
the support of the priesthood, and the due celebration of 
pubho worship, were most wickedly withheld, and squandered 
for other purposes; and, in consequence, the ministers of 
God's House were forced to neglect their sacred duties, and 
engage in worldly pursuits, to gain the means of livelihood. 
When Nehemiaii heard of this he came back to Jerusalem, 
and by unwearied diligence and zeal, succeeded in reforming 
these abuses. 

It was at the close of this great work that be offered up 
the petition contained in the text, "Remember me, my 
Goo, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that 
I have done for the House of my God, and for the offices 
thereof." 

That N*HEMIAH did not make this request under the 
influence of self-righteous views of his own merits, or be- 
cause he thought the Almighty was a debtor to him, is plain 
from another petition, found in the same chapter, "Remember 
me, my Gon, concerning this also, and spare me, according 
to the greatness of thy mercy," verse 22. 

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J 



SERMON. 



\ 
7 



The good works which he had been enabled to perform, 
were designed to promote God's glory. He was not a 
selfish and ambitious man, who sought, in this way, to ad- 
vance his private interests. IDs motives were pure. He 
loved God, and proved the strength of his attachment by 
doing good to men; and this, not only by providing for their 
temporal wants, but by restoring the' daily worship, and 
securing the means of support to those who ministered in 
the "House of Prayer." 

"It is evident that Nehemiah expected that the Lord 
would remember his good deeds, and vouchsafe them a 
gracious recompense, notwithstanding defects in them, and 
sin in him; after the same manner as the apostle Paul 
assures the Hebrews, that the Lord would not forget then- 
work and labor of love," 1 

Nehemiah looked back with pleasure upon the hardsliips 
he had undergone, and the sacrifices he had made for the 
chosen people of God. The reflection that his exertions 
had secured for them the prayers, and instructions, and 
examples of the appointed servants of the altar, afforded 
him more satisfaction than all the houors and enjoyments to 
be found in the court of an earthly prince. His deeds 
were such as the Almighty approves, and it is a pleasing 
thought, my brethren, that we may imitate this pious Jew, 
by liberality and zeal "for the House of our God, and for 
the offices thereof." 

Ever since the establishment of his kingdom upon earth, 
God's people have contributed of the wealth with which he 



1 Si-oll's Commentary, in loro. 




SERMON. 



V 



has entrusted them, in building temples to the honor of 
his name. 

It is delightful to read with what a cheerful spirit the 
Israelites presented their gifts for the erection of the Taber- 
nacle. "They brought a willing offering unto the Lord, 
every man and woman. * * Bracelets, and ear-rings, 
and jewels of gold," and materials for "the holy garments" 
of the Priests, and "spice and oil for the light, and for the 
annointing oil, and for the sweet incense;" Exodus xxxv.; 
in short, every thing which they possessed, which could 
help along the good work. 

When David found himself seated on the throne of 
Israel, he felt unwilling to remain in a "house of cedar," 
while "the ark of God dwelt within curtains;"' 3 and pro- 
posed to build a temple more worthy of the Divine presence. 
The Almighty, however, commanded him to leave this work 
for Solomon, who accordingly carried out his wishes; 
and having finished "the House of the Lord," he "brought 
in the things which David his father had dedicated; the 
silver and the gold, and the vessels," 3 and then solemnly 
set it apart to the service of Jehovah. 

The fires of persecution, which tried the faith of the 
early Christians, had not gone out before places for public 
worship were established. Several of the early Fathers 
understand the passage in 1 Corinthians xi. 22, "Have ye 
not houses to eat in, that ye despise the Church of God," 
as referring, not to the Assembly, but to the place, appoint- 
ed for the offering up of prayers, the administration of the 



2 II Samuel vii. 2. 

3 I King's vii. 51. 



J 



SERMON. 



Sacraments, and the preaching of the gospel; thus tracing 
hack the existence of church edifices to the first century. 

During the second and third centuries, many references 
of the same kind are found; and it is mentioned of Eusebius 4 
that the number of believers had so increased "that their 
ancient churches were not large enough to hold them, and 
therefore they built more spacious ones in every city." At 
first they were, of course, cheap and plain, because Christians 
were unable to do better, but when their means increased 
they showed their gratitude to God by raising costly temples, 
" The glory of Lebanon, and the excellency of Carmel and 
Sharon" were given unto the Christian Church. All na- 
tions "have brought gold and incense, and showed forth 
the praises of the Lord. * * They have fallen down 
and made supplication." 5 

The world attributes such an outlay to "spiritual pride," 
and calls it "extravagance!" It is true, the differences 
of earthly glory can he nothing to the "High and Holy 
One," who dwells "in the light which no man can approach 
unto,"" and who can only be worshipped acceptably when 
he is worshipped "in spirit and in truth;" but the fact is 
undoubted that the desire that God may be served in the 
most becoming way, is a strong proof that our hearts are 
right before Hun. 

Nothing but contracted parsimony ventures to ask, 
"To what purpose is this waste?" While men are building 
fine houses for themselves, and gathering about them all 



4 Book vili. chapter L 

5 Isaiah xuv. 2 ; lv. 13 tic. 

6 I Timothy vi. 16. 



HI 

[ 



SERMON. 



the comforts of life, is it right that a humble place should 
be set up and called God's House? "The silver and the 
gold" are His — He "giveth men power to get wealth." 
Are they justified, then, in employing the largest share lor 
their own uses, and casting into the Lord's treasury the 
small surplus, which it costs them no sacrifice to contribute? 

But besides the propriety of the thing, there are other 
reasons why "the temple of the Lord" should be budt and 
adorned with taste and care, and the services performed 
therein "decently and in order." We are all, more or less, 
influenced by what some choose to call unimportant matters. 
To cite an example of every-day occurrence, our opinion of 
a man's character is often formed from merely noticing his 
dress or maimers. To impress the mind deeply, with awe and 
reverence for the Almighty, the place where we meet to 
worship him should convey some idea of his greatness and 
glory. Even bigotry itself, which had power to lead a 
mighty intellect away from "the faith once delivered" to 
the church of the Redeemer, could not prevent his acknowl- 
edging this truth in most touching words: 

" Oh may my due feet never fail 
To walk the studious cloister's pale. 
And love the high embowed roof, 
White antique pillars, massy proof, 
And storied windows richly (light, 
Casting a dim religious light; 
There let the pealing organ blow 
To the full voie'd choir below, 
In service high and anthem clear, 
As may with sweetness thro' mine ear, 
Dissolve me into ccstacics, 
And bring all heaven before mine eyes." 7 



7 Milton 1 * " 11 Penseroso." 



J 



SERMON. 



11 



Such being the influence of externals upon the mind, 
it is hardly necessary to remark, that where the ability 
exists to beautify the sanctuary of God, it should be con- 
sidered a duty and privilege to do it. 

I congratulate you, rny brethren, upon the improve- 
ments in tins temple, which we witness here to-day. Such 
a praiseworthy example, I trust, may be often followed. 
People thus show that they feel in some degree that debt 
of gratitude which is due to God. The man in active 
life — whether his means be great or small — when summing 
up the profits of the year, should say, " This sum I dedicate 
to God!" — Those in feeble health, or in the decline of life, 
should remember in their wills "the House of God," and 
bring a blessing on their wealth, by "lending to the Lord." 

What a comfort on our dying beds, to be able, with 
humbleness of heart, to say, as Nehemiah did, "Remember 
me, my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good 
deeds that I have done, for the House of my God, and for 
the offices thereof." 

May He dispose us thus to act ! May He graciously 
accept the offerings we may bring! May He of his good- 
ness grant that "our outward show may not outstrip our 
our inward progress; that whatever gift, rare or beautiful, 
we bring into His temple, may be but a figurqj of inward 
beauty and unseen sanctity ornamenting our hearts." 

It was the impassioned declaration of the pious David, 
"I will not Suffer mine eyes to sleep, nor mine eye-fids to 
slumber, neither the temples of my head to take any rest, 



A 



8 Fsalma cxxxii. 4, 5. 



SERMON. * 



V 



until I find out a place for the temple of the Lord; an 
habitation for the mighty God of Jacob." 8 

Let it be our endeavor, brethren, to imitate his holy 
zeal! It is the exalted privilege of Christians to be 
"co-workers" with then- God; and they should not be un- 
mindiul of it. We can all do sometliing towards building 
up His kingdom, and we have the satisfaction of knowing 
that God "will not forget our work and labor of love." 
The minister has his peculiar sphere of duty — the people 
hayc theirs. You can be regular at church — you can 
bear your part in the services; — you can invite others to 
come with you — you can attend Church twice on Sunday — 
you can find scholars for the Sunday School, and help to 
teach them — you can instruct your children at home, in the 
catechism, and "train them up in the way they should go" 
— you can he liberal in your contributions — you can pray 
for your minister, and for the church at large. Above all, 
if you would ever reach heaven, you can, and ought, and 
must cultivate the humility, and patience, and charity, of 
quiet and consistent followers of the Lord Jesus. 

If Pastor and People thus labor together, in dependence 
on God's grace, "no weapon that is formed against you 
shall prosper." Zion will soon "lengthen her cords and 
strengthen her stakes." The consciousness that you are 
trying to do your duty, will cheer you in your work; and 
when your services in earthly temples are ended you may 
be sure of an entrance into that "building of God," that 
"House not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."